The Philosophy of Criminal Law

88 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2001

See all articles by Larry Alexander

Larry Alexander

University of San Diego School of Law

Date Written: May 15, 2001


In this fairly lengthy essay, I attempt to bring theoretical unity to the general part of the criminal law by viewing the issues of the general part - the voluntary act requirement, mens rea, culpability, attempts, defenses, etc. - through a controversial but plausible lens, namely that legal wrongs justify criminal punishment when their commission indicates negative desert commensurate with that punishment. In exploring the question what acts (or other things) justify punishment, I take positions, sometimes unorthodox, on such matters as what should count as an attempt, is self-defense really a justification, and should the defense of duress apply to nonhuman threats, among (many) others. In the last third of the essay, I discuss the special part of the criminal law, with particular emphasis on Feinberg's work on the moral limits of the criminal law and on criminal liability for omissions.

Suggested Citation

Alexander, Lawrence, The Philosophy of Criminal Law (May 15, 2001). Available at SSRN: or

Lawrence Alexander (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

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San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States
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